It’s normal to feel shocked when your child asks for a smartphone. Mobile devices can give children a sense of independence from a very young age. According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, 77% of four-year-olds own cell phones. Apparently, parents are getting over that initial shock rather quickly … but not all.
The children-with-smartphones debate raises significant questions about communication, security, privacy, and boundaries. Addressing these questions allows you, the parent, to make an informed decision in the best interest of your child at his or her current stage of development.
Purpose: What are the reasons your child needs and/or wants a smartphone?
When mulling over the idea of getting your child a smartphone, consider who planted the idea and why. If your child was the one to ask, determine whether it is simply to play games, to watch videos, to text message or to grow socially.
If you were the one to raise the issue, determine if it is for valid reasons. Is it to monitor your child’s whereabouts, to see him or her grow socially, or because of pressure from other parents?
Studies have shown that dads are “more likely to give kids smartphones in elementary school while mothers do so in middle school.”
Security: Is your child aware of the dangers of the online world?
“With kids ages 8 to 18 spending on average 44.5 hours per week in front of screens,” it is improbable to monitor every minute of their online activity.
Accordingly, teaching your kid the right way to behave online is crucial. Educating children on respecting private matters and not overexposing themselves or others online is key. Moreover, when giving children access to smartphones, it’s the parents’ responsibility to warn and protect them from online predators.
Communication: Do you enjoy open communication with your child?
A strong communication line with your kid will also enable you to detect certain issues, including cyberbullying. Additionally, online tools such as child-friendly search engines and safe search filters will help keep your kid safe from inappropriate content and enable you to spend less time monitoring your child’s online activity.
Boundaries: Establishing rules for healthy phone use
If you decide to purchase a smartphone for your child, careful not to treat the occasion as if your child has a right to the device. As the parent, it is your decision, and you determine the rules for phone use. It’s important to make the rules clear, easy-to-follow, communicate them before gifting the cell phone, and follow through with consistent consequences if and when they are broken. In fact, handing the smartphone with a list of rules will show your kid that this form of independence is a privilege.
Determining “phone free” time (e.g., during dinner when the family is all together, on family game nights, or when it’s bedtime), can help your child avoid developing undesirable phone habits. Moreover, not texting during class and not spending hours browsing, instead of doing chores, are all basic rules you may want to include. Here’s a free sample smartphone contract courtesy of TeenSafe.
Myth: Smartphones ruin childhood
While it’s easy to blame smartphones for corrupting childhood, you could say the same of ice cream. Give children ice cream without monitoring their intake, without setting boundaries, without educating them on the health risks of eating too much, and there will be adverse affects. How smartphones and ice cream impact your child depends on your commitment and consistency and your child’s level of responsibility.
The upside of smartphones for kids
With so many educational apps, learning has never been more fun. From trying to acquire new language skills, understanding math, science, and other complex subjects through dynamic apps means your child can access an interactive knowledge network.
The final decision
At some point in his or her life, your child will have to get a smartphone to function in our modern world. Until then, you can choose to give your kid as much phone-free time as possible — time that can be spent playing outdoors, reading books, and being unaware of the addictiveness of technology.
On the other hand, you can choose to give your kid a smartphone now and take on the challenge of teaching him or her how to find mental balance in our “hypertech-driven” world.
Contributed by Hilary Smith: Hilary is a writer and parent who specializes in spreading positive parenting techniques, focusing on the use of social media and new technologies by tweens and teenagers.